BANGOR, Maine — The images are iconic. Not only are they prime examples of Americana and commercial art from the World War I and World War II eras, they also evoke memories of Americans’ shared sacrifices during two events that left indelible marks on the nation.
Virtually everyone has seen wartime posters featuring Uncle Sam or Rosie the Riveter or urging Americans to buy war bonds or stamps in support of the troops.
Others are much less known, such as a WWII poster depicting the arm of a Nazi military officer slashing a bayonet through a Bible. “This is the enemy,” the poster warns in chilling shades of black and blood red. A post-WWI poster from 1919 calls upon U.S. companies to hire veterans so they can “Put Fighting Blood into Your Business.”
“When people look at them, the stories just start tumbling out,” Special Collections Librarian Bill Cook said Tuesday as he pored over a sampling of the library’s collection of 800 World War I and World War II posters.
Stored in a large room in the library’s basement known as “The Cage,” the collection was compiled by L. Felix Ranlett, a WWI veteran and military history buff who was the librarian during WWI, said Cook. The collection is believed to be one the largest of its kind in the country.
While most of the posters are in good condition, they are fragile, and as a result infrequently displayed.
That will change later this year as the result of a digitization project now under way.
The digitization work is being done by Bangor photographer James Daigle as part of a collaboration with the University of Maine’s Fogler Library.
The project is being funded by the photographer’s brother Eugene Daigle, Fogler network services manager, and Eugene’s wife, Barbara Daigle. Both Eugene and Barbara Daigle have served in the military, and both their fathers served in combat areas.
The project’s aim is to allow the public to access the images, which will be stored on UMaine’s URSUS server. Access will be available to anyone with Internet by Veterans Day, Nov. 11, Cook and Daigle said Tuesday. Prints of the posters eventually will be available for purchase.
Daigle said Tuesday that he so far has digitized about 500 of the posters using a high-end Canon digital camera that yields “raw” format images that are loaded with digital data. These in turn can be converted into JPEG images, which are well-suited for Internet viewing, he said.
The work also has its low-tech aspects, Daigle said. He he used leftover peg board, a vacuum cleaner and other odds and ends to make a vacuum table, an easel-like contraption that uses suction to hold posters to a flat upright surface without the need for damaging tape, tacks or pins. It would have cost as much as $50 a day to rent the device’s commercial counterpart.
Daigle, who has experience in the worlds of news, advertising and fashion photography, said he and his brother became involved in the project because they believe the images should be shared and because they come from a family with a strong military background.
“A lot of this poster stuff related to us,” he said.
Daigle said people need to see the posters because they serve as a reminder of the effect war has on people and countries and “so it doesn’t happen again.”